Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Connecting The Most Ancient Things

Late last year I took a trip to Europe with my family. Among other things, we spent some time in Tuscany, and Florence in particular. Naturally, we visited the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo's David and the many other amazing works of art that are on display there.

Art is something that I've always appreciated, but I've never completely understood the level of awe that people have for David. But seeing it in person has completely changed my perspective on the matter. There is something remarkable about that statue and the level of genius that must have been involved in its creation. Learning about how marble sculptures are made brought this to even another level.

But as we walked around the statue, we couldn't help noticing a little black box behind the feet. This was obviously some sort of data logger, so I decided to do a little digging on the topic.

Turns out that David has a bit of a bum leg. After four hundred years of leaning forward slightly in his previous location, the marble is cracking. And plans to dig a multimillion-dollar underground railway project in 2011 certainly weren't going to help matters any.

So Giovanni Pascale with the University of Bologna has installed a wireless monitoring system to keep track of the progression in the cracks as well as the environmental conditions in the area. This includes any changes in the level of the platform where the statue is mounted as well as the basement below. It uses fiber optic sensors, temperature sensors, and accelerometers to capture data. Vibrations above a preset threshold trigger an event when they occur, but otherwise data is sent via email/FTP to a web server every three days.

Obviously, this isn't any sort of breaking news. But it always fascinates me how sensors and instrumentation can be used to track and monitor the most diverse things. It is all about connecting people more closely to the things they care about.

More details are available here: